Friday, April 29, 2011

How to manage a sandbox campaign: The pre-game

Last post I mention three broad areas on managing sandbox campaigns. The pre-game, the bag of stuff, and world in motion.

The pre-game is crucial to a successful sandbox campaign. Nothing kill a sandbox campaign quicker than the lack of meaningful choices. It doesn't matter if you have two dozen want ads on the campaign's tavern board if the player doesn't have any way to judge which one is best for their character. They might as well roll a dice to see what ad to pick.

The purpose of the pre-game is to give the character a context in which to make their initial choices.

Using my Blackmarsh setting as an example; the players makes up a human fighter.

Blackmarsh Human Origin
  1. former Bright Empire (d6 1-2 Castle Blackmarsh, 3-6 other settlement)
  2. Ostrobard
  3. Vasan Viking
  4. Grand Kingdom
  5. Rangers of Blackmarsh
  6. Other (d6; 1 raised by another race, 2 from the Ochre Empire, 3-6 from another culture)
Each of the above choices present different possibilities for the character. Who do they know for contacts, what they are concerned about, and what complications they have to deal with.

For example a 3 is rolled for Vasan Viking. During the pre-game it is decided that the character's father was an baron of Vasa who banked a sum of gold with a banker in Castle Blackmarsh. After the conquest of Vasa, the merchant conveniently "lost" the record when the character's father attempted to collect it. The baron's copy was lost in the conquest. The player decides to have the character vow to recoverthe lost fortune.

Along with this referee notes that the copy is currently held at Norbury castle along with a bunch of other scrolls, records, and books from Vasa. Notes the details of the banker, his allies, and his enemies along with some adventure hooks relating to all this.

With items like this resulting from the pre-game the player has the context to make his initial choices in a sandbox campaign centered in Blackmarsh.

Here are some techniques to use as a starting point for your own pre-game.

You need to be knowledgeable about your setting. Note this is NOT mean you need something like Tekemul, Harn, or my Majestic Wilderlands. You can use this with little more than a mountain with a dungeon and a village at it base.

How? Because D&D itself has a context, the vaguely feudal medieval, swords & sorcery themes that inspired the original the rule book. Reflect on what elements you want to incorporate into your campaign and make some notes. You don't really need any specific details as to names, or geography. Only the understanding that there is a probably some kingdoms with a king, dukes, and baron. That there is a forest of elves, a mountain of dwarves, and a quaint land full of hobbits err halflings. Just make the player aware that some specifics will be filled in later.

But in the end you have a bunch of characters whose players all know why they are heading to this particular village next to this particular mountain. And the character will have goals independent of just cracking open the dungeon door and looting what inside.

The format of the pre-game.

Alex expressed some concern in a comment to the previous post.
...and the one time a GM asked me for a one on one session that basically sent me into a two week mental freeze.
I can see that happening but the pre-game does not need to be a one on one roleplaying session.

The majority of my pre-games are simply me talking to the players before the game. Basically it is a interview. I ask what they want to play, the player throw out some things, I throw out some choices, the player think the choices suck, I throw out some more, the player likes being an Agent of the Black Lotus, we talk about that, the player finds it limiting but likes the stuff about the Brotherhood of the Lion (a thieves guild), and so rolls up a thief. And then we talk further about the character background. However informal or formal you make the pre-game, the end result is a background for the character.

The pre-game works best when you have no more than two pages of detail. One page for personal background, and one page of general information. This post has a background from one of the campaigns I ran in the 90s. The second half, which I no longer have, was four paragraphs and gave general details on City-State, the Black Lotus, and the Order of Thoth.

You could do a one on one roleplaying session, but some will find it too elaborate or time consuming. While others will just sit the table as a group before the first game and talk about the campaign and why are there. The important part is that it is done before the start of play, and it conveys both campaign and personal character info. Doing this give the context in which the players can being interacting with your setting.

I use the interview technique because the Majestic Wilderlands has a lot of details. I found it to be the most effective and fun way of getting what the player needs to know about the setting.

For the novice to the Majestic Wilderlands, I don't get into the details of the setting right away. I simply asked that based on their knowledge of fantasy and D&D what would they like to play. After that I start giving some choices and details from the setting.

Using Blackmarsh as an example, the player say I want to be a human thief. I say "You can be from the Company of Honorable Men, a thieves guild in Castle Blackmarsh which is . Or be a ranger specializing in spy type work that requires thief skills. Or you can be a treasure seeker looking for vis and artifact from the Grand Kingdom. An Ostrobard or Vasan that from improvised background and living hand to mouth.

We go back and forth asking each other questions and giving answers. Finally the players decides on what they want to be.

Then the next step to personalize the character by talking about the character's background. Is he from a rich or poor family, who were his allies, friends, and enemies. The most valuable treasure is my campaigns is not the +1 sword you gain from killing the minotaur but the allies and friends you gain along the way. Using this technique allows the player to take advantage of this from the start of the campaign.

Last are interesting complications for the character. The two of you should consider what has driven the character to be an adventurers. You want to skew the complications to something that works well for adventuring.

Last you need to realize that as the referee you have formidable powers to manipulate this process. Now you don't going to get a player to play something he doesn't like but you can tweaks things so it fits better for the type of campaign you are planning to run. But more importantly, you manipulate the pre-game to provide natural reasons for the party to stick together.

I found that done right, players with characters that would otherwise beat the crap out of each other work together because they have some mutual or reinforcing goals. This is much more powerful technique for keeping a party together than a referee fiat.

By this point, I written quite a bit on the pre-game and some of you are probably thinking that is pretty elaborate for the game you like to run. In reality all this doesn't take much time and I will bet that 90% of you are doing some sort of pre-game right now. My "interview" doesn't look much different than chatting with the players about the campaign before it starts. The difference is that I am trying to do prep in a more consistent way.

Even you use none of my techniques, the most valuable thing you can do to improve your campaign is analyze what you do to prepare players. Especially if you are unhappy with how thing turned out in a previous campaign. By breaking it down, you will find the area that you need to improve but also find that you been doing a lot of things that are good.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

How to manage a sandbox campaign

JB over at B/X Blackrazor posted about the issues he had with sandbox campaign style. ChicageWiz takes issue and answers his post point by point.

JB issues are not new, there are numerous posts on various blogs and forums, like Enworld, that recount the failure of a sandbox campaign. All the issues that JB raises in W for Wandering Adventures I seen written by others.

So what going on? Part of the problem is how the term sandbox campaign arose. A bunch of us who helped with Necromancer Game's Wilderlands of High Fantasy adopted it to described what the massive boxed set was good for. A setting full of local details so your players always have something waiting for them over the next hill. It simple and easy to grasp and probably helped sell a lot of those expensive boxed sets.

And it was the worse possible way we could have chosen to describe what we all did with our versions of the Wilderlands. Because the reasonable conclusion that most referees came to after listening to us was: pick out a village/town, do some prep, players make characters, and have them show up at the gate.

And more often than not it failed than succeeded. Why there were more failures? Because this particular setup require that the player not only be very active in digging info, but also lucky that the particular info they dug up was interesting. If all they managed to find was the mustard farmers being menaced by kobolds and the group thinks that's lame, it can be hard for a campaign to recover from that.

Then there were the campaigns where people recounted that they had a great time. Describing how they felt their choices really made a difference in the fortunes of their characters.

I thought for a while that some of it was about the sheer size of the Wilderlands Boxed set. So I created, with Joseph Goodman, the Points of Light series of settings. And later my How to make a Fantasy Sandbox series of posts. For 2008 and most of 2009 I wrote settings, gave my advice and wondered why the failures kept appearing. Then it hit me what is not being explained.

The heart of the sandbox campaign is the feeling that that for good or ill that it is the player's choices that control the fortunes of their character. The triumph is all the more sweeter as the player knows not only he overcame the challenge but also made it happen in the first place.

I noticed that most of the favorable posts described the middle or end game portion of the sandbox campaign. The players recounting the plots he brewed up, the complication he overcame, and describing how it came about what he choose or didn't choose. That when it hit me.

The successful sandbox campaign reached a point where the players have enough knowledge about the setting to where they feel they can make reasonable choices. The ones that failed where because the players felt they were just throwing darts randomly onto the hex map and going to that point. It seemed hit or miss to whether a sandbox campaign got that point where the players had enough knowledge to make reasonable choices.

Also I realized that for me, I haven't run for a long time the campaign where the player just showed up somewhere and start out by looking at the tavern want ads. Very early on I was influenced by a section in the original Harn Folio about the pre-game. This was a page of advice, with tables, where N. Robin Crossby tells you to sit down with the players, figure out where they came from (rolled on the charts), who their family are (more charts), and then run a little one on one session where the two of you figure how the character came to be an adventurer.

It all came together for me and I realize that the main reason these campaigns failed is that players didn't have context. And without context you can't make meaningful choices, that all you do is take a dart and let it land on the hex map. And hope that something interesting comes up.

So the key to fixing this issue is to give the players context right from the beginning of the game. The best way to do that is to take N. Robin Crossby's advice and run a one on one pre-game with each player in the campaign where the two of you work out together the character's background. Then when the campaign starts and they look at what beyond the gate of Castle Blackmarsh they have an idea of what going on, and something interesting things to do.

I will get into details about the pre-game in the next post. Also note that this is not the only issue that JB and other referees have with the Sandbox Campaign. I will also be talking about the referee's bag of stuff and how that makes management of a sandbox campaign considerably easier. Finally how to make your setting a world in motion.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

The issue of Royalty RPGNow vs Lulu

Pat over at Henchman Abuse has a rebuttal to my post on RPGNow vs Lulu. It is well written except for one problem.

The non-exclusive royalty rate is 65% at RPGNow/DriveThruRPG.

From OneBookshelf FAQ
You earn a royalty of 70% if you are exclusive to our marketplaces or 65% if you choose to be non-exclusive and sell through other online stores. Our share of revenue covers our server upkeep, bandwidth, payment processing, marketing and customer service.
*In reply to Pat's Comment*
This is not available on a public link but the royalty rate is the same for print.

Q: How do royalty payments work on printed copies?

When you set-up a print option on one of your products, you will be shown the current cost to print each copy of the product. You will then be asked to set the margin you want on that title. For example, the print cost on a title might be $4.41 and then you choose to set your margin at $5.58, thereby setting the consumer price for that printed title at $4.41 + $5.58 = $9.99.

When that printed copy sells, the print cost is removed from the purchase price and we split the margin that is left with you per our usual royalty agreement with you (i.e. the same royalty percent you get on download sales). This is credited to your publisher royalty account in real time just like when a customer purchases one of you download products
*reply to Pat's further comments*

OK at first glance I was scratching my head at the linked agreement and then I remembered what the clause is for.
(b) OBS shall pay to Publisher a fifty-five percent (55%) royalty on the sales of Licensed Products for which Publisher submitted the Product to OBS as a hardcopy printed book suitable for OBS to scan and produce a digital file version
If you have a book with no digital file, you can send the book to OBS and they will scan it in for you and post the digital files for you to sell. But... they take a bigger cut in this case so you only get 55%. This is NOT the royalty rate for print. The royalty rate for print is the SAME as the royalty rate for PDFs as stated in the FAQ. The one exception is where you decide to offer the scanned digital file as a print copy. Which somebody with a popular out of print title from the 80s may decide to do.

Reading over my original post I wasn't clear on this point. For project larger than 84 pages and willing to use b/w publisher's quality then it is a wash. Lulu has a better royalty rate, RPGNow has a better shipping rate to foreign customers. RPGNow has a slightly better royalty rate on the PDF version and you have the ability to package multiple files and update notification while Lulu all you can offer is a single PDF.

But if you have a lower page count than 84, or if you are using color, the RPGNow is the better deal.

On Lulu, 16 pages can only be printed with standard paper for a cost of 5.90. ($7 - $5.90) * 80% = $0.88
On RPGNow, 16 pages can be printed full color for a cost of $2.50 + .30 fee ($7-$2.80) * 65% = $2.73

For b/w publisher quality printing Lulu gets a lot better the larger your margin. As Pat points out the 15% or 10% difference start adding up.

Majestic Wilderlands at digest 140 pages I make .36 more on Lulu 5.92 than RPGNow 5.56. Of course the difference grows the more is charged for the book. But I make 4.41 on Lulu for a PDF sale and 4.55 on RPGNow. I only get that by using Publisher Grade and as a consequence any oversea buyers faces the infamous large lulu shipping charges.

But what does this mean for the OSR Publisher?

*DISCLAIMER* please don't take this what if of an analysis of what it really cost James Raggi to produce Loftp RPG. He uses his own printer so this is purely a what-if.

Well let's look at one of the more expensive products out there Lamentation of the Flame Princess RPG. James Raggi has his own printing done but let's present it was going to be done Print on Demand. At 32.50 Euro it works out to $47 or so. Let round it up to $50. It is 360 total pages if combined. It is the European equivalent of digest size. I may be wrong about this but let's go with the smaller size.

On Lulu we find that 360 pages at digest size for b/w publisher quality is $7.90. So James Raggi would earn ($50 - $7.90)*80% = $33.68.

A RPGNow the cost would be $6.60 per book and he would earn ($50 - 6.60) * 65% = 28.21. A $5.47 hit per book. If he was exclusive then he would get $30.28 per book at hit of $3.40 per copy.

If he sold a 100 copies over a year, which is not unreasonable for a high quality project, $547 (or even $340) is a big hit for recouping costs.

However the price he would pay is that anybody outside out of the United States would get hit by exorbitant shipping rates. So he and any other publisher will have to weigh the lost overseas sales vs better royalty. I don't have much hard data but my impression is at least a quarter of the market for the OSR is overseas. There was a lot of the print MW that didn't get sold overses until I put it up on RPGNow.

But to be honest projects like the Lamentation of the Flame Princess are an outlier. Most OSR projects hover far below the $50 selling price $30 margin. In fact range roughly from $5 to $15. There the difference are much less dramatic and as in the case of my Majestic Wilderlands less than a dollar.

I appreciate Pat bringing up the royalty issues and his well thought out post but I still stand by my original recommendation that OSR publisher should consider RPGNow over Lulu for their publishing needs. This may change because of the evolving of the PoD technology so check and compare periodically.

Friday, April 22, 2011

If you are going to publish PoD use RPGNow not lulu

Part of the problem is that RPGNow POD prices are behind the publishers only menu but here are some comparisons to illustrate why RPGNow PoD is a better deal and why Blackmarsh is not on Lulu.

Lulu only competes with RPGNow using Publishers Grade B/W only and it has minimum page count of 84 for both digest and letter.

84 pages is $5.01 letter size b/w on lulu
84 pages is $3.84 letter size b/w on RPGNow

200 pages is 7.10 on Lulu
200 pages is 5.30 on RPGNow

For color it there is no comparison RPGNow beats the pants off of Lulu
100 pages letter color is $25.50 on Lulu
100 pages letter color is $11.50 on RPGNow

For low page count it is even more silly
16 pages letter color is 8.50 on Lulu
16 pages letter color is 2.50 on RPGNow

In fact the only way a product with less than 18 pages for RPGNow is to use the full color option.

RPGNow is a better Print On Demand service than Lulu for RPGs.
Plus it appears their shipping is more reasonable especially foreign shipping.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Techniques for dealing with large groups of gamers

During my monthly game, at the Gold Star Anime, I have an open game with varying numbers of players. In the past year I sometimes deal with groups larger than five players which is something I haven't dealt with for a long time. April's session was one with one such large group.

Normally my style is for each player to roll individual imitative. I always disliked the caller system and my style is to speak directly to each players as to what they want to do. But I admit this doesn't scale too well. For the large group sessions I been a bit erratic on how I handle things as I try to relearn old techniques after a gap of 30 years.

In April session I think I finally feel that I got a grip on two aspects of managing a large group. First retaining individual initiative, and wandering around a town or dungeon as separate individuals.

For initiative, I am going to a count down system. Basically start at the top with the highest number calling out for anybody who has that initiative and working my way down to 1. This way I don't have to fiddle with my initiative board. I think this works great with large groups and allows for the individual bonuses to come into play.

For town or when the party splits, I use a strict round robin policy. I start on my left and referee that player or group for two or three minutes and go onto the next person or group. The key element is timing, looking at the roleplaying/action and getting a feel for the right moment to cut them off. Combat is rather easy due to the round structure. For roleplaying to go around town I generally use one complete exchange between a player and a NPCs. For example going to a shop and ordering magic items. The danger of not doing this right means you have players sitting around twiddling their thumbs. But on other the other hand the individual players get some center stage time like in a smaller game.

It a compromise and I am always juggling things around keeping the game moving forward, the players having fun and retaining interest. One thing is that I need to look at the seating arrangement as the long table means that the players seated farthest away are least engaged. I am thinking of turning the table longwise so everybody is sitting in front of me like a panel. That should cut the distance between me and the furthest player down considerably as well as make the game board more accessible. The other method is to make a T with me sitting at the top and the players sitting in the L section on both sides.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Blackmarsh and Majestic Wilderlands Reviews

Zombie Cowboy has some good things to say about Blackmarsh in a short review of Blackmarsh.

Over the RPG.NET Zachary of RPGBlog2 gives glowing review of the Majestic Wilderlands. Also in the comment sections I replied to a customer about the reasons why the Majestic Wilderland supplement was made the way it was. Some of you may find it useful for your own publishing plans.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

What it took to publish Blackmarsh

January 20th
Sent email to John Adams offering him a setting. Noted that the only compensation I wanted was credit and for the entire setting to be under the OGL.

January 21st
John likes the idea and we agree to chat on Skype to hash out details

January 23rd
The other Delving Deeper developers like the idea.

Beginning of February
It took a couple of days to coordinate schedules but we finally manage to chat. Agree it was to be digest size and no more than 24 pages plus one 8.5 by 11 map.

Middle of February
Decide to use the Blackmarsh map after talking it over with Tim of Gothridge Manor. Due to needing this done by the end of March I didn’t want to draw another map. So the final choice came down to between Blackmarsh and The Outdoor Map. Tim thought Blackmarsh looked more interesting.

February 15th
Wrote the Introduction, Overview, and History

February 20th
Rewrote history, the first version was based off of the Greyhorn Setting I wrote for the live-action roleplaying chapter I ran. While I could made it work it didn’t have the gold rush feel I wanted and frankly I wanted something unique to Blackmarsh. This is version 1.

March 5th
Completed First Draft sans rumor table, city key, and Castle Blackmarsh map. This is version 2. It had Stat Blocks. Sent it to John for initial approval along with the question do I include stat blocks or not?

March 5th
John and the DD team likes it and tells me to axe the stat blocks. Yay!

March 6th
Went through and edited version 2, got rid of the few Stat Blocks I had and saved it as version 3.

March 7th
Sent it to Tim, Started working on Version 4 with the City Stuff added.

March 12th
Get the edits back from Tim saves at Version 5, review edits and make a handful of changes and saves it as Version 6.

March 22nd
Finish City, and Rumors in Version6. Send it to Tim again. Also sent it to Dwayne and the Rusty Battleaxe for edits and comments. Finished the City Map.

March 24th
Tim and I get on Skype and read out loud the entire document, applying edits as we go. This becomes version 7.

March 26th
Apply the edits sent in by the Rusty Battleaxe saves it as version 8.

March 27th
Layout day for the digest version.
When through my purchased Stock Art and began picking out suitable pieces. Mostly landscapes. Created a new art subdirectory with a subdirectory for each vendor. Copied the picked pieces into each vendor’s subdirectory so I knew who to credit.

Converted all at to CMYK 32-bit TIFFs important for PDFX/1a compatibility. Otherwise the RPGNow convertor will kick in and I wanted to avoid that as I am pretty sure it is the source of why my art and map were half-tone in the Majestic Wilderlands.

Created the digest title page which is also it’s cover.

Did the layout for the digest size version. Had to mess around with the font size and the OGL license text font size to get everything into 24 pages.

March 29th
Final Digest PDF created and sent to John Adams
Greyhawk homage cover created for RPGNow.

March 31st
Finished the Letter size PDF it is 15 pages compared to the digest’s 24 page. I had to leave the last page blank per Lightning Source specs.

Letter size PDF is successfully converted to PDFX/1a format using Adobe Acrobat

Setup RPGNow product and uploaded files

Setup RPGNow print on demand I chose full color costing $2.50 per book.

Decide to go with $7 for my book price which nets me $2.77 per sale. If I was going to sell the PDF I would have sold it for $4. Which I calculated by dividing 2.77 by .65 and rounding to the nearest whole dollar amount. The .65 comes from the 65% I get from RPGNow.

April 2nd
Print PDF now goes into Lightning Source processing queue.

April 8th
Print PDF clears processing and now available for order. I could have released then but that not a good idea until I see for myself what it looks like. So I order two books for myself costing 11.45. Shipping doubles the price.

April 14th
Books get here and look great! Release of Blackmarsh.

April 15th
286 gamers downloaded or bought Blackmarsh. Hopefully are enjoying reading it and getting some great ideas for their campaign. 50 gamers downloaded the Blackmarsh SRD at Note if you ordered the free PDF off of RPGNow it has the SRD.

Friday, April 15, 2011

In hole, in the ground, there lived ....

a hobbit.

The first video blog from the Hobbit production.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Blackmarsh setting is released!

I got back the proof copy of Blackmarsh and it exceeded my expectations. Therefore I am releasing Blackmarsh on RPGNow as of today. I want to thank Tim Shorts of Gothridge Manor, Dwayne of Gamers Closet, and the Rusty Battleaxe for their help and support.

A special thanks to John Adams and the Delving Deeper development team for giving me the opportunity and drive to contribute Blackmarsh to the OSR.

In the days when man knew only the working of stone and fought for their existence against the orc and the goblin, the sky turned to ash and down fell the fiery mountain onto the land. The world tore open and the grey waters rushed in. Those who survived the impact were lost as boiling clouds rushed out in all directions leaving a wasteland in its wake.

The Mountain That Fell left a gift; magic. Near and far, those of learning and strong of heart discovered new powers to shape the world. In the desolation around the Smoking Bay the adventurous found viz, magic in physical form. And there was more, scattered amid the landscape were strange artifacts and stranger creatures that survived The Mountain That Fell. For a time men, dwarves, orc, goblins, and other races braved the dangers and fought each other in the wastelands. Then the elves came into Blackmarsh expelled the feuding races, drove the monsters out, and healed the land.

In the present day, many come to Blackmarsh to harvest viz, kill monsters, or seek the strange artifacts left by The Mountain That Fell. The only force that stands against the wilderness is the Blackmarsh Rangers. Anyone who is willing to defend the land and its people are welcomed into their ranks. Powerful kingdoms outside of Blackmarsh are beginning cast a covetous eyes toward the land's riches. Will the adventurers of your campaign become wealthy and powerful? Or will their bones join the many that have sunk into the swamps?

Blackmarsh is a complete, ready to run setting for your campaign. It can be run as its own setting or an expansion of your existing world. Contained in Blackmarsh are 17 geographical entries, 78 described locales, and one detailed town; Castle Blackmarsh. Each entry provide one or more adventure hooks to use in your campaigns. The text and map for Blackmarsh have been released under the Open Game License for anybody to use for commerical and non-commerical purposes.

Blackmarsh package on RPGNOW (FREE!) (pdf)

Blackmarsh Setting Book ($7), (letter size print)

Blackmarsh Setting Reference Document (doc, pdf, zip), included on RPGNow.

Charlie, of the Sheen and company

The RPG Pundit has started a D&D campaign consisting of the D&D Cyclopedia, Forgotten Realm (Grey box), and my Majestic Wilderlands. His first post lists the various PCs making up the party and there are some great ones including a human Mountebank, Charlie of the Sheen.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Why Gagarin and not Shepard

So why was Yuri Gargarin the first man in space? Just as important why was he the first man to orbit the earth?

Since the launch of sputnik both the United States and the Soviet Union were in various races. The race to launch the heaviest satellite, a race to reach the moon first by satellite and the race to launch the first man into space.

Alan B Shepard missed being the first main in space by inches. The reason was that during Ham the chimpanzee suborbital flight test the Redstone rocket didn't perform as expected. Chris Kraft, Robert Gilruth and the rest of NASA Langley felt that performance issues were minor and that they could go with the next flight with the rocket design as is. Werner von Braun of NASA Marshall wasn't as confident. He insisted that that one more test flight of the Redstone was needed to verify the fixes and got his way. That flight launched in March 24th 1961. Then on April 12th, Gargin lifted off on the R-7 rocket in the Vostok capsule and made one orbit of the earth. Alan Shepard followed a couple of weeks later in May with the launch of Freedom 7.

Until the day he died Alan Shepard and rest of NASA Langley felt they could have been first if von Braun would have been bolder. The situation is ironic because several years earlier von Braun was able to launch a satellite well before Sputnik using the Jupiter-C missile he was developing for ballistic nosecone re-entry tests. Indeed before one launch a general personally inspected the rocket to make sure that von Braun didn't slip an extra stage to accidentally launch the payload into orbit.

Sputnik was launched, Vanguard failed, and finally the US called on von Braun to launch the Explorer satellite on the Jupiter-C.

But even if Alan Shepard would been the first man in space, Gargarin would been the first man to orbit the earth. The reason lie back in the early 1950 during the development of the Hydrogen Bomb. Due to work of Teller and Ulam the initial weight estimate for the American Hydrogen bomb came in way lower than expected. This came at a crucial time during the development of the ICBM. Since less weight means a cheaper rocket to develop the developers of the Atlas and other rockets eagerly used the new weights for their design.

In contrast the Soviets had to loft a lot more mass for their bomb so Korolev's R-7 was designed to lift a much bigger payload. Eventually the Soviets developed a lightweight hydrogen bomb but now they had the prefect rocket in which to support their space program. This meant the American had to use less powerful rockets for the Mercury capsule until the upgraded Atlas was ready. The Soviets launched their first flight into orbit and Gagarin became the first man into space. That same rocket, the R-7 Semyorka, has been used in the launch of Sputnik and all russian manned flights including the Soyuz flights to the International Space Stations.

Yuri's Night

Today is the fiftieths anniversary of Yuri Gargarin's orbit around the Earth in Vostok I. It is also been 30 years since the the Space Shuttle Columbia launched for the first time in STS-I with John Young and Robert Crippen on board. Yuri's Night was begun in 2001 to celebration mankind achievements in space and honor those risked their lives in the exploration of space.

For many this is a bittersweet anniversary because of the two last shuttle flights coming up. With the United States mired in a budget crunch and recovering from a severe recession many wonder if there will ever be any human space flight from the US again.

I have no worries in this regards as we are on the verge of a new golden age of space. Elon Musk of SpaceX just recently announced the Falcon Heavy which, for the first time, will offer a cost into orbit of less than $1,000 per pound. This is a major breakthrough.

Then there are a variety of other companies like XCor, Armadillo Aerospace, Masten Space, Bigelow and Virgin Galactic all in serious development of various space development. Thanks to Armadillo and Masten we now have practical and affordable rockets that can lift off, fly, and land on their tail.

I end this post with a link to this inspiring song called a Fire In the Sky. There are more at this website

Monday, April 11, 2011

Blackmarsh proof copy

That was a nice turnaround by RPGNow and Lightning Source, I entered in the order for the proof copy of Blackmarsh on Friday and it shipped today.

Friday, April 8, 2011

The Next Step in Blackmarsh

The print copy cleared the premedia review by Lightning Source and now I ordered my review copy to make sure are no other screw ups other than the misspelled word on the back cover. Once that is shipped (and my computer is up and running) I will fix the print cover. I appreciate Laslo for point out the mistake.

When you fix a print PDF on Lulu, the old copy is still available for purchase while the new version works it way through the pre press option. I did this a couple of time to update the Majestic Wilderlands. Because I successfully exported validated the PDF as meeting the PDF/1xa standard the prepress seem to take less time.

Plus I got this message for Majestic Wilderlands

A1 - 1000 - Content is approved for production

and this for Blackmarsh

A1 - 1000 - Content is approved for production no proof req

I am asking One Bookshelf about the difference. I know the PDF/1xa specs are meant to insure that the submitted PDF prints exactly like how you see it on the printer's press.

I am excited to see how using the color book option looks on my maps and illustrations and really want to see the cover in it's full glory. Interestingly the only way to print less than 18 pages on RPGNow is to use color.

So it is now a week or so before Blackmarsh will be released. Again the PDF will be released for free. The text and map will be completely under the OGL for anybody wanting to do commercial or non-commercial projects.

Then there are the days I really hate computers.

Well it happened again, the Hard Drive my computer crashed, sigh. The only good news is that Hard Drive isn't gone only unusable as a drive. Thanks to TestDisk again I am able to pull off any data that I haven't backed up. The thing that irks me about Test Disk is that it uses the current date on the copied files. I also recommend the Universal Boot Disk, it is a linux distro on a CD and has a complete suite of diagnostic, disk management and disk recovery. The Linux OS and tools have a come a long way in the past five years. While novices would be lost, people who have some knowledge of their computer will find the tools useful.

The other good news is that I will be able to turn this in for Warranty repair, and when I get it back I will have two hard drives on my system of equal capacity. I use a USB Hard Drive for backup of my writing and software development. As part of my backup routine I save my writing folder after a major project is finished. Since I just finished Blackmarsh my last backup of my writing was only a day old.

But my hometown computer stores did not have a 1 TB Hard Drive in stock anywhere so it is off to Erie today to pick one up. With luck I will be able to do some work on Scourge on Sunday, and be able to run Monday's game using Fantasy Grounds and Skype.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

A peek into the Majestic Wilderlands

In the Majestic Wilderlands,I mentioned that among the Elessarians, the power of justice was in the hands of a druidic order known as the Trehaen. Elessarians nobles while wealthy were mainly administrators and police. I wrote this as part of intro packet into the Elessarian cultures.
Listen now to the Judgment of the Trehaen. Unto you was given the trust of the people of the Barony of Oxhorn. To protect and defend them from the monsters ranging from the Land of Beasts. Instead your spent your days in Damkina and worse Viridistan drinking, gambling and whoring. Squandering that which your forefathers and peers worked so long to build. For those of a lesser station such actions would be pitied and have little consequence other than to your honor. But for one of your station the consequences were far more severe as witnessed by the dead of Andown, Heatherdale, and Cloras.

By the testimony of your peers we bear witness to your indifference and worse your active interference with those who tried to fulfill the duty you failed to do so. For this, you and your clan’s property are to be confiscated and divided among the survivors of Andown, Heatherdale, and Cloras. In addition, I have in my possession a writ from the White King at Damkina concerning your title and person. It decrees that you are to be stripped of title and office. That for dereliction of duty and loss of life that you are to hang until dead.

I order these judgments to be immediately carried out and may the High Lord have mercy on your soul Baron Pharadar.

Trehaen Leothar at the Trial of Baron Pharadar
The Kingdom of Damkina, 4382 BCCC

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Invisible walls all around us

I thought this article was neat to read. Basically photographs of people using a special device to detect wi-fi signals.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

From the Attic: Experience Points Rules

Around 1983 I realized that I didn't like XP for gold or magic items. By then I ran several groups through the Majestic Wilderlands and realized that what fun about my campaign was the players building a legacy for themselves. Grubbing after gold and magic items specifically for XP was a distraction. Plus while I wasn't a Monty Haul referee I was never stingy for Magic items either. Plus I was one of those referee who allowed players to shop, within reason, for magic items. Particularly at the Sorcerer's Supply Shop in City-State.

Eventually I jettisoned xp for gold, and xp for magic items. I replaced it with an Roleplaying award. The system was simple, I set some factor for the campaign. Typically between 50 and 100. I rate the players on a scale from one to 5 as to how well they "roleplayed". Then use the formula of Base Factor times level time rating. That coupled with the xp from defeating monsters and enemies plus any prime requisite bonus is what the characters got for XP.

Of course the immediate question comes up is what is good "roleplaying". Then I defined as being in-character, reacting to the various situations as if the character was really there. If the player came up with a nifty scheme or pulled off a great plan then I award a 4 or 5.

Today I still use the same system for awarding xp. I still look for player reacting in-character to situations in the game. But now I also look for how the players is accomplishing his goals. When they hit a major milestone on their plans I give them a 5. While events are swirling around them in my campaign I don't really care what their exact plans are. I am not dictating a story here, I want the players to make their own way through the Majestic Wilderlands. So it may be that the goal of a player for his character is to become head of the thieves guild. Then through chance we get into into roleplaying about a princess the character fell in love with and the character wants to marry the princess. Now I look to see how the players is progressing with both of those.

So what happens to Gold and Magic items? Well they are just an in-game means for the players to accomplish their goals. Players have their characters seek them for their value in accomplishing whatever they want to do. Gaining treasure allow them more resources to accomplish their plans which boosts their roleplaying awards.

I no longer charge for training costs. Instead the players can spend up to a 1,000 sp per week to gain 1,000 xp. Since I adapted the harn price list and a silver based money system, a 1,000 sp is a substantial sum. For straight classic D&D I would go with a 1,000 gp per week. What happens is that if the players are little bit under they will spend time training between sessions. Also when the magic-users are copying spells into a spell book (1 day per spell level) the other characters usually train. I also jettisoned level limits for demi-humans. Instead the limitations are social and cultural.

Below is the original typed set of rules I used to implement my Roleplaying-experience system.

Friday, April 1, 2011

The largest sandbox campaign ever is released!

Sandbox Earth is a setting suitable for all RPGs set in the modern day. Four billion years in the making it has finally been released! In fact it been arranged so that that it is already at the front door of the readers of this blog. Stepping out you can examine the first of the thousands of locales included in this amazing product. A preview can be viewed here and a detailed review can be found here.